When a person serves as a caregiver for their loved one, they are taking on not only the daily care of that person, but also a certain level of personal sacrifice and weight within their own life. The social and emotional baggage of caregiving often goes unspoken, as caregivers fear it is selfish to think of their own needs when the needs of their loved one seem far more pressing. But these needs are real, and deserve therapy or counseling and social and familial support all the same. This is certainly true for those who care for a loved one living with serious mental illness.
Detecting depression in caretakers of mentally ill adults has been the main focus of recent work by psychiatric nurse researcher Jaclene Zauszniewski. Thought patterns such as low self worth, powerlessness, hopelessness, and loneliness can be early signs of depression, and it’s not difficult to see how these emotions can come into play for caregivers. Feeling powerless to help the person overcome their condition, feeling lonely and isolated from neighbors and coworkers who don’t understand mental illness, and even stress and sleeplessness from day-to-day tasks: these are all realities for thousands of people who care for a mentally ill loved one.
Zauszniewski’s work focuses on identifying depression among caregivers so that they can receive help, whether it be therapy and counseling, support groups, or otherwise. Caregivers may feel reluctant to pursue therapy because they feel responsible for being the strong one: the helper who does not need help. But we are all human, and caring for a loved one who struggles is no small task. Deciding to find a therapist, get support staff for a day off here and there, and otherwise address stress and depression is not a selfish act. Because seeking help for depression benefits quality of life for the caregiver, it also benefits the person they’re caring for by ensuring a healthy, engaged individual who is in the best shape possible to care for themselves and for others.
© Copyright 2010 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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